Mah-jongg is now an “intellectual” success at home during the pandemic

More people, including children, are playing mahjongg during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Sales of vending tables for the classic tile-based game have also increased. (Video by Jin Nishioka)

Home-lifestyles have further eroded the rough image of mah-jongg as a game played all night long by rude characters in smoky gambling dens.

Families and friends of all ages are now embracing classic tile-based play as their intellectual activity during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

At 48-year-old Hayato Shimoda in Osaka, the winners of the mah-jongg games get their favorite ice cream first or the losers wash the dishes.

The company worker, who has been playing mahjongg since attending college, now plays it at home with his wife and 12-year-old daughter on weekends.

In October of last year, he bought an automatic trading table for around 150,000 yen ($ 1,350), much to the amazement of his wife who saw it as another example of his follies on something non-essential. .

“For those whose hobby is playing mahjongg, an automatic vending table is the greatest luxury,” Shimoda said. “It also serves as a communication tool because my daughter also likes it a lot, saying things like, ‘I won on a tile thrown by daddy! “”

Shimoda isn’t the only one spending a lot of yen on mah-jongg.

Yuta Watanabe, 25, another Osaka employee, bought an automatic negotiating table after the first state of emergency was declared in April last year.

“It’s a great toy that I can play with when I don’t like going out,” he said. “It was quite expensive, but I’m glad I bought it.”

Taiyo-Giken employees check mah-jongg tables in Mihama, Wakayama Prefecture. (Jin Nishioka)

Taiyo-Giken Co., based in Gobo, Wakayama Prefecture, which manufactures and sells mah-jongg items, said its home-use automatic trading tables have been selling well since the first state of emergency.

It sold about 20% more units year over year in the year ending March.

In December, the company sold around 200 tables, more than double the figure from a year earlier.

“Home use models have become available at more affordable prices because they don’t have as many features as industrial models,” said a representative from Taiyo-Giken Co. “They sell as well maybe because that more people who cannot go out have started playing mahjongg as a home game. “

Easy-to-play beginner mahjongg apps are also proving popular.

The Net Mahjong MJ Mobile app from video game developer Sega Corp. had been downloaded over 12 million times as of September 2020.

The company released the app in 2013, but the number of users and playing time increased during the pandemic.


According to Neuron, which runs mah-jongg classes in 141 locations across Japan, more beginner players, ranging from children to their 50s, have enrolled in mah-jongg classes in recent years.

Many people appear to have first tried mah-jongg on apps during the pandemic.

About 30 percent of new members registered at the Neuron branch of Omachi in Tokyo since April said they had tried mah-jongg apps in the past.

Despite fears of catching COVID-19, some mah-jongg classes are full, Neuron chief director Yuichi Ikeya, 48, said.

He said the trend to view gambling as a “mental sport” and a “healthy pastime” was fueled by the spread of household lifestyles during the pandemic.

Taiyo-Giken Co. employees check mah-jongg tiles in Mihama, Wakayama Prefecture. (Jin Nishioka)

The game’s public image has improved in recent years thanks to a popular anime show featuring high school girls who are members of a mah-jongg club.

In addition, a professional mah-jongg league called the M.League was established in 2018.

“In mah-jongg, you have to adjust your strategy to suit the situation, such as looking at the tiles your opponents discard to decide which tiles you want to discard,” Ikeya said.

“Patience is also needed to make concessions in many ways in determining the balance between attack and defense, instead of aiming to become the first winner in each round.”

Ikeya said that mah-jongg gives young people the opportunity to develop skills that will be important when they reach adulthood.

“I think it could continue to gain popularity as an intellectual game,” he said.

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